Milan Design Week is an annual fair which showcases the latest in furniture and design from around the globe. Also known as Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano or Milan Furniture Fair it is hailed as one of the largest trade fairs in the world and is considered the leading event for new products and trends by designers of furniture, lighting and home furnishings.
Milan Design Week has long been a major event for those in the worlds of interiors and furniture design. The major fashion houses such as Versace, Armani and Missoni moved into homeware and furniture design years ago and have subsequently become regular fixtures at Milan Design Week.
However recent years have seen more and more unlikely brands jumping on to the bandwagon.
A slew of new –somewhat unexpected - brands have begun to create a presence at the event, in a bid to bolster there credentials in the worlds of design and innovation.
As The New York Times reported this year “Some of the splashiest shows were bankrolled, not by furniture manufacturers but by car, fashion and technology companies hoping to attract the attention of the thousands of journalists, stylists and bloggers who had flocked to Milan. Not for nothing did the British designer Jasper Morrison once suggest renaming the fair the Salone del Marketing.”
This years’ event saw furniture and homeware designs from the likes of Ford, Mazda and Maserati, while brands such as BMW, Renault, Hyundai and Panasonic, collaborated with artists to create installations and artworks.
Three brands in particular caught Branded Arts Review's attention for the branded experiences created at Milan Design Week
Mini opted against furniture design choosing to create an installation sculpture Mini KAPOOOW and an experiential space The Mini Paceman Garage hosting music, design, cinema, books & magazines, workshops, guests and live concerts. The multidimensional installation was inspired by the versatile attributes of the Sports Activity Coupé and was created by the Mini Design Team headed by Anders Warming. The installation is in two parts, the first presents the rear of the car as a real vehicle about to embrak on its metamorphis, the second phase sees the vehicle made of hundreds of pieces of paper. “The use of paper symbolises the “prototyping” of a creative process and as such opens up the possibility of drawing on its two-dimensionality to represent a new three-dimensional sculpture.”
Adidas, teamed with designer Tom Dixon to create The Capsule, a collection of sleek sports clothing that converts into luggage and camping equipment. This includes padded parkas that convert into sleeping bags, hoodies that can be zipped into small pouches during travel, and a five-in-one overall design that converts to a coat, jacket, pant, skirt, or short. Adidas said the collection reflected “both Adidas’ forward-thinking technologies and Dixon’s inventive style.” “The teaming up of Tom Dixon and Adidas is an opportunity for grand exploration into the sport’s world expertise in performance, matched with British ingenuity, both representing unique craftsmanship and innovation.”
Heineken returned to Milan Design Week for the second year and created Magazzini, an experiential brand space, the beer brand also launched the second edition of its Open Design Explorations project which invites designers from around the world to collaborate on building the ultimate concept lounge bar. Heineken used the opportunity to unveil its interactive beer bottle Heineken Ignite. The bottle uses micro sensors and wireless networking technology to sense motion and lights up in response. The bottle can also respond to music, including specific audio and data cues and can be remotely activated, meaning all bottles can be programed to synchronize to a music beat.
Mark van Iterson, Global Head of Design at Heineken said, “Clubs and bars are our design playground and where Heineken is most at home. In a similar way that the automotive industry creates concept cars to showcase future possibilities, we at Heineken want to explore experimental and pioneering ideas for nightlife. We are looking for people who share Heineken’s values, open-minded design explorers with innovative ideas that will drive progress.”
So what exactly are all these brands doing at a furniture fair?
Firstly it’s clear that Milan Design Week is much more than a furniture fair, it's become the global event for cutting edge design. Designers, editors, bloggers, trend watchers and style hunters attend in their masses to view the upcoming trends, themes and the next big thing. Where once it was the domain of Italian designers and furniture manufacturers collaborating with the editors of Vogue Living, Wallpaper, Icon, Monocle etc to host the big ticket shows, now it is the global designers, brands and marketers rushing in for a piece of the action.
Thanks largely to the rapid rise and dominance of Apple products, which showed the world the importance design could make not only to product success but ultimately to a brand's status and the company bottom line, design has become a crucial battleground for brands.
Apple’s design-centric approach to product design and user experience proved that good design really could differentiate your product and give you genuine cut-through. The Apple success story is so desired by brands that it is no surprise to see brands literally diving onboard an event regarded as the place for the hottest, cutting edge design.
For companies that are looking to align their brand and products with these attributes of design and innovation, it just makes sense to have a presence at Milan Design Week and leverage off the event and gain exposure.
For Adidas, a presence at Milan Design Week fits perfetly with its strategy to target creative athletes, in this case the brand is looking to appeal to designers and yet again show the brand is no longer about sportswear for sportspeople, but more about an attitude and an asthetic for creative people. This collaboration with Tom Dixon and the subsequent collection and installation make a are a perfect fit with the brand’s strategy. Teaming with a popular designer and creating a very cool collection of clothing which converts into camping equipment is on the cutting edge and is very very cool. Adidas gains major kudos for the collection within the creative community and the move has helped expose it to a broader community.
The large presence of car manufacturers at Milan Design Week is interesting. On the surface level it’s completely plausible that they would be there, they are design brands after all with large – and no doubt growing teams of designers. Like all designers they deal with the challenges of design and manufacturing everyday. Car manufacturers are battling the same challenges and obstacles as furniture designers as they strive to create designs, which are cutting edge and will continue to be cutting edge two years down the line when the finally role out the first finished product. Car manufacturers like everyone else face the challenge of balancing form, technology and design to create products that are differentiated from the rival brands and help reinforce the branding.
Except car manufacturers have many, many of their own automotive fairs and events where they showcase design, innovation, product extensions, concept car designs etc, so why start showing at a Furniture Design Fair?
A large part of car design is the balance of smart design, safety and comfort, so it makes sense that these brands would want wish to push their design credentials into furniture – and lounges makes a sensible first step. It's also about proving that they are designers - real designers - not just car designers. As Ross Lovegrove says the car "is one of the most designed objects on earth".
Where it gets really interesting is the move to create symbolic and creative installations to express the mood and emotion of the vehicles – as is the case with MINI’s KAPOOOW. This to me feels like a strategy aimed at boosting the brands credentials as a serious artsy design brand. Mini's marketing strategy has long traded off the idea that it is more than a car brand, it’s a way of life, a way of driving. This installation seeks to harness the brand's emotional connection and combine it with cutting edge design. Mini has a heritage with designers too, the car has unashamedly targeted the creative community and this presence is a continuation of that strategy.
And ultimately it’s not just kudos and credibility, these brands are hoping to leverage off the event, there's also an element of talent attraction at play here, these brands are hoping to appeal to designers and attract the best in class to join their design teams or collaborate with them to ensure they go from strength to strength in this area.
This is evident in the strategy behind Heineken’s foray into design through its design and innovation programs, literally taking its RND projects to the masses and inviting designers around the world to get on board - a very savvy move really.
The final strategic plus is the opportunity to showcase concepts and new product designs in an unexpected environment that is not saturated with similar brands – well not yet. Heineken gets maximum attention for launching a revolutionary product innovation at a Design Show, had they showcased at an event for digital innovation such as SXSW they would have been lost in the noise. It's the same for Mini, creating an installation to celebrate it's iconic car design at a design event creates more attention and cut-through than unveiling the same piece at a car event. Again it rings true for Adidas, the brand is so immersed in collaborations they could have rolled this out at any fashion event or via an Adidas event, however creating a fashion meets utility collection and showcasing at a Design event, creates mximum attention and like all three of these brands helps ensure that design and a strong commitment to design is at the heart of the brand's DNA.
In a global market saturated by brand events and collaborations, Milan Design Week stands out as a major event. Leveraging this event and boosting their design credentials is a simple, yet smart strategy for these brands.